Poking around some data sets, I randomly stumbled onto to this factoid:
According to World Bank estimates India’s life expectancy is now below that of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal’s! Now, I am aware that these data and analyses are somewhat an art, and that there’s a lot of subterfuge (hello Greece!). Additionally, it does seem strange that Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal exhibit the same trend. But of more interest to me is that India has not outstripped the other nations in terms of life expectancy considering its greater economic growth of late.
Of course that’s naive. “India” brackets together a diverse array of peoples and regions. It turns out that across just the individual states of India there is about the same variation in life expectancy as there is among the most disparate American subpopulations. In the United States Asian females live ~13 years longer than low-income southerner rural black females. Asian males live ~15 years longer than high-risk urban black males. In India women in Kerala live ~17 years longer than women in Madhya Pradesh. Men in Kerala live ~13 years longer than men in Assam. The biggest life expectancy gap between American states is 8 years, between Hawaii and Mississippi. And observe that the variance is greater for women in India, while it is greater for men in the United States. There are probably biological and behavioral reasons why women should live longer than men, all things equal. The fact that they do not in India speaks to the depth of sex-based inequity in that nation in many regions. Below is a plot of the ratio of life expectancies for males to females vs. the life expectancy of females. The relationship is rather clear:
An R-squared of 0.49 means that about half the variation of one can be explained by the other. Some of the state-by-state values are also curious. It is well known that Kerala has a stagnant economy but robust human development indices. But less well known perhaps that Gujarat is a wealthy state, and yet its life expectancy values are below the national average. Punjab and Haryana are both relatively wealthy, and ethnically Punjabi (Haryana is Hindu, Punjab has a slight Sikh majority), but Punjab has a notably higher life expectancy. Nevertheless, on a state-by-state basis there is still a relationship between per capita GDP and female life expectancy: